UCU elections
Taking action in higher education

Matilda Fitzmaurice (Durham University)

Election address

I am a Human Geography PhD student and an hourly-paid graduate teaching assistant (GTA) at Durham University. I joined UCU in 2017 because, despite not benefiting from it myself, I feared what a downgraded USS might mean for the future of work in UK Higher Education. The 2018 strikes opened out a broader conversation about how working conditions and job security in our sector have deteriorated over the past decade. Crucially, this also alerted me to the shocking precarity of early-career academic employment.

I am running for NEC so that I can be a strong voicein the north-east against stagnant pay, precarity and casualisation, but in particular I am determined to ensure PhD students nationwide are properly represented within UCU. We have much in common with our ECR colleagues, including hourly-paid and precarious work. We have a wide range of duties: from leading seminars to marking; from giving advice to students to teaching on residential fieldtrips. However, it is often impossible to complete these within our contracted hours. We care deeply about our work, and we deserve proper pay for our commitment to our students and the subjects we love. As GTAs, we contribute massively to teaching at our universities and if elected, I will agitate for decent pay, secure employment and contracts that are conducive to doing our jobs well and safeguarding our health. This is even more important given that for many, this work is not just 'career development' but essential to cover rent, food and bills.

I recently became a rep in my department focusing on postgraduate recruitment and representation. I did this because I am of the generation politically galvanised by the trebling of tuition fees. I have watched the marketization of our universities unfold, and know what it is to be working on the front lines of teaching and administration duties while also completing a PhD and worrying about negotiating the academic job market. As an unaffiliated candidate new to union activism, I will bring fresh ideas and energy, as well as independence from existing factionalism within UCU.

In closing, I admit I have personally been one of the luckier ones. However, I do feel very strongly that casualisation and precarity are not 'rites of passage' but violent practices that force marginalised colleagues from the sector. I proudly stand in unconditional solidarity with these colleagues, who include working class, women, LGBTQ+, trans and non-binary, BIPOC, disabled and chronically ill workers. I fear that if such working conditions persist, only those who can absorb years of low pay and short-term contracts will be able to become academics. I owe it to all current and future PhD students to take a stand against this.

Last updated: 30 January 2020